The Joy Formidable - Live At Rough Trade East, London

In-store gig to celebrate their sophomore album

Their debut album 'The Big Roar' was aptly named: a formidable wall of searing, layered guitars, drums and front-woman Ritzy Bryan's voice pitching between a shriek and a whisper. The three-piece from Mold in North Wales have been touring hard over the last few years in support of the likes of Muse and White Lies, writing on the road and only taking time out to record their follow-up, 'Wolf's Law', in the appropriately wild state of Maine in the Northeastern US.

To the sound of a wolf's howl, the band stride on stage and launch into 'Cholla', the second new album track to get a release. Named after a sticky cactus, the searing riff at its heart is just as catchy, but the noise hurricane that characterised much of their first album has been tamed somewhat.

"Hello! Are you alright?" says Ritzy when she comes up for air. "Yes? No?" The typically uncommunicative London audience are, well, uncommunicative. "Well, nevermind. We'll try and cheer you up."

Indeed, why so serious? The tell-tale opening bass line of 'Austere' drags a cheer from the crowd, despite the quality of the sound system – in what is, admittedly, a shop – more closely resembling your mates' band playing in the front room through your home stereo. "Puppets and gowns/We'll ransack this town," she sings softly, dropping down to a single string of fuzzy guitar, beckoning the crowd forward before overwhelming them with a wall of noise. As the song's rhythm decays into aggressive hacking at guitar, bass and drums, onstage the band are having a whale of a time. Drummer Matt Thomas batters his skins as if equipped with more arms than is usual, bassist Rhydian Dafydd has a quick jab at the cymbals for good measure, and the tiny lady with a fringe as razor sharp as her riffs leaps about irrepressibly, her huge blue eyes opening wide enough to be visible from the back of the room. In fact her whole face is a semaphore for each song, cycling through expressions from serene to pained to a rock 'n' roll bass face and back again.

It's textured, layered, pummelling noise. They've been called shoegaze, apparently because they use loops and pedals, but really their sound conjures up the wail of Dinosaur Jr. or the Pixies more than floppy haired folk from Oxford. But, especially in such a small gig, what's apparent as they tear through closing numbers 'The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade' and a tumultuous rendition of 'Whirring' is how much fun they are having. How unselfconsciously they banter with each other and the audience, Ritzy offering her guitar to be struck by the front row during a feedback wig-out, Rhydian good-naturedly shoving her into the crowd as she leans too far off the stage, both accuse Matt of "not hitting the drums hard enough," which could scarcely be less true.

"It's so nice to see so many faces we recognise," Ritzy adds. That people come back for more doesn't surprise us at all. Their star is rising; it's not if, but when.

 

Words by Michael Parker

Photos by Brian Whar

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